Wednesday, November 30, 2011

William Zinsser on Daniel Fuchs

William Zinsser is best known for his book On Writing Well (1976). He was also a movie critic for the New York Herald Tribune in the 1960s and recently blogged for The American Scholar on Daniel Fuchs, a Black Sparrow author. In 1937, Fuchs at twenty-seven years old and already the author of three remarkable novels came to Hollywood from Brooklyn. Thus began a lifelong love affair with the movie business and he worked with the best: Warner and MGM and RKO, Wilder and Huston and Joe Pasternak, Raft and Cagney and Doris Day. In 2005, Black Sparrow published The Golden West: Hollywood Stories which collects, for the first time, the best of Fuch's writing about studio life, from from a novice screenwriter's anxious first impressions (1937-39) to a fifty-year veteran's mellow memoirs.

Here's Zinsser on Fuchs:

Daniel Fuchs was a writer who had published three critically acclaimed novels while he was still in his 20s and had also sold stories to The New Yorker. But the novels didn’t sell, and in 1937 Fuchs accepted a screenwriting job at RKO Pictures and stayed for 34 years. He found himself unexpectedly caught up in a community of dedicated craftsmen not unlike himself. Embracing that world, his novelist’s eye and ear fine-tuned to the outsized dreams and vanities of its inhabitants, he would write one of the best of all books about the movie industry: The Golden West: Hollywood Stories.

“You get absorbed in the picture-making itself,” Fuchs wrote. “It’s a large-scale, generous art or occupation, and you’re grateful to be part of it. What impressed me about the people on the set … was the intensity with which they worked. … They were artists [and] photographers, set designers, editors and others whose names you see on the credits. They worked with the assiduity and worry of artists, putting in the effort to secure the effect needed by the story, to go further than that and enhance the story, not mar it.”

The Golden West was not conceived as a book. It was posthumously compiled from fictional stories—all recognizably true—that Fuchs wrote about his movie-writing years and was published in 2005 with an admiring introduction by John Updike. In his preface Updike can hardly contain himself from quoting passages by Fuchs that have an Updikean elegance of their own. I felt that I was watching two thoroughbred horses on the final leg of a racetrack, each straining to outrun the other, every muscle fully stretched.

Fuchs [Updike writes] sees no shame in shaping a product for a mass audience; rather, he sees wizardry and a special kind of truth. “It had to have an opulence; or an urbanity; or a gaiety; a strength and assurance; a sense of life with its illimitable reach and promise.” … [Fuchs] finds good words to say about tyrants of the industry like Louis B. Mayer and Harry Cohn, men who, however misguided, lived for the movies, who demanded the work. “It was always surprising how underneath the outcries and confusion the work steadily went on. They never slackened; fighting the malach ha-moves [the Hebrew Angel of Death] and the dingy seepage of time, they beat away to the limits of their strength and endowments, striving to get it right, to run down the answers, to realize and secure the picture.”

During my stint as a movie critic, Hollywood was an assembly line. All the studios kept under contract a platoon of stars and producers and directors who had to be employed 12 months a year to amortize their salaries. Inevitably, many of the 500-odd movies I reviewed were not very good, and some were terrible. But even the worst of them had been painstakingly manufactured. When I once toured the major studios I marveled as a small army of artisans and technicians fussed with infinite patience to assemble a jigsaw puzzle that would be correct in every last period detail. The most fatuous Virginia Mayo pirate movie got the same finicky attention that would have been given to Gone With the Wind. Today, when I think of Daniel Fuchs’s book, I think of those men and women fondly.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Superior Person's Tuesday!

We hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Algophobia n The morbid dread of pain. As a warning to those who have been lulled into a false sense of security at the dentist's by the latter's more or less routine use of local anesthetics, the author, a true algophobe, relates this cautionary tale of his encounter with a London dentist. "It's just a little one," said the dentist, in the most casual and reassuring tone, "do you want to bother with an anesthetic this time?" "No," I manfully replied. In an instant the drill was in my mouth, and through a curtain of unendurable pain I heard the dentist say "Suit yourself; it won't hurt me!" Like all algophobes, I have never been able to transcend dental medication. Hmmm . . . perhaps if you said it aloud. . . .

Why the holidays may give rise to algophobia:

Each Tuesday, we’ll offer up a Superior Word for the edification of our Superior Readers, via the volumes of the inimitable Peter Bowler. You can purchase all or any of the four Superior Person’s Books of Words from the Godine website. Algophobia appears in the Third.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Superior Person's Tuesday!

To celebrate Thanksgiving a good number of us return to our childhood hometowns . . . which brings us to today's Superior Person's word:

Nostopathy n A morbid dread of returning to one's home.

OK. One more for the holiday:

Each Tuesday, we’ll offer up a Superior Word for the edification of our Superior Readers, via the volumes of the inimitable Peter Bowler. You can purchase all or any of the four Superior Person’s Books of Words from the Godine website. Nostopathy appears in the Third.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Free books!

For a limited time—with any order of $25.00 or more, receive a free copy of
Not Forgotten: American Writers Remember the Lives of Literary Mentors, Friends & Rivals, compiled by Steven Gilbar and Dean Stewart. For orders over $50.00, you'll also receive for free a copy of the fully illustrated children's book Electra to the Rescue: Saving a Steamboat and the Story of Shelburne Museum by Valerie Biebuyck.

We are also offering a Black Friday Special!

Any size order (absolutely no minimum) placed between 12:00am midnight on Thursday, November 24th to 12:00am midnight on Friday, November 25th will receive a free softcover copy of J.M.G. Le Clézio's novel The Prospector, winner of the 2008 Nobel Prize in Literature. This free book is in addition to the free book offers mentioned above.

Visit or to browse our titles and place your order.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Dorchester Speakers Forum on Jane Jacobs

Jane Jacobs’s work is alive and well in Dorchester, MA. On Veteran’s Day evening in the middle of a holiday weekend, a standing-room only crowd filled All Saints parish hall in Dorchester’s Ashmont neighborhood for a Dorchester Speakers Forum on urban heroine Jane Jacobs. Panelists included 1988 Democratic presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis; M. David Lee, past president of the Boston Society of Architects and a partner in the architecture and planning firm, Stull and Lee; and Godine author Glenna Lang (Genius of Common Sense: Jane Jacobs and the Story of “The Death & Life of Great American Cities”) Frank Keefe, Secretary for Administration and Finance under Dukakis and a Boston developer, served as the lively moderator.

The panelists facing an engaged crowd of 200+ (standing room only):
Glenna Lang, Gov. Dukakis, and architect David Lee. (Photo credit: Mike Ritter)

Glenna Lang set the stage with a portrait of Jane Jacobs and her many connections to Boston – even to Dorchester itself. She reported that Jane had called Codman Square Health Center founder Bill Walczak in the early 1990s to learn about this Dorchester neighborhood’s remarkable turnaround, and she told the story of how Jane’s papers came to reside at Boston College.

With pithy quotes from The Death & Life of Great American Cities, David Lee marveled at the relevance of Jane Jacobs to the design profession today. He selected passages of enduring wisdom in her book, some of which displayed her sympathy, understanding, and appreciation for African Americans and other minorities who lived in public housing projects or were confined to ghettos.

Along with wonderful stories and quips, the Governor vividly described Boston’s political atmosphere that led to the demolition of the West End and the massive highway scheme that would have laid waste to much of the city. He pointed out that the power of a Robert Moses in New York or William F. Callahan in Boston lay in influence gained through patronage and corruption. An engaged citizenry, he exhorted, must continue to fight for better cities to counter the Moses of the world.

The largely Dorchester crowd – lifelong residents, newer enthusiasts, political figures, and neighborhood activists – responded with a shower of questions, opinions, and tweets. Michael Patrick MacDonald, author of the renowned South Boston memoir All Souls, tweeted from the audience with delight, “At All Saints in #Dorchester for Jane Jacobs Speaker Forum. Gov Michael Dukakis gives MAJOR props to @occupywallst & @Occupy_Boston.”

After the forum – organized by political mover and shaker Joyce Linehan – panelists and many audience members repaired to the Tavolo restaurant for further conversations, lively stories, and political gossip. Tavolo is located on Dorchester Ave. in a recent six-story building right next to the MBTA’s Ashmont Red Line Station. Jim Keefe and Trinity Financial developed the site of a former bus parking lot with ground-floor retail and mixed-income housing above. Jane Jacobs would have approved wholeheartedly.

The after dinner at Tavolo restaurant, hosted by Jim Keefe:
Michael and Kitty Dukakis with Alex von Hoffman and Glenna Lang.
(Photo credit: Joyce Linehan)

The author of this post is Glenna Lang, co-author of Godine's Genius of Common Sense: Jane Jacobs and the Story of the Death & Life of Great American Cities along with Marjory Wunsch.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Superior Person's Tuesday!

Glabrous a Having a surface free from hair or other projections. Smooth-skinned, smooth-leafed. When introducing a guest speaker who suffers from alopecia [ital] (q.v.), you could insert into your remarks a passing reference to his "glabrous pinnacle" without giving offense.

One possible usage of a glabrous surface:

On the day Homer quits the power plant,
he insults Mr. Burns and plays his bald head like a bongo drum

Mr. Burns: I should be resisting this, but I'm paralyzed with rage . . .
and island rhythms.

Each Tuesday, we’ll offer up a Superior Word for the edification of our Superior Readers, via the volumes of the inimitable Peter Bowler. You can purchase all or any of the four Superior Person’s Books of Words from the Godine website. Glabrous appears in the First.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Jane Jacobs Event in Dorchester

For those in the Boston area, the Dorchester Speakers Forum is presenting a panel discussion this Friday, November 11th at 7:30pm entitled "50 Years Later: Jane Jacobs's The Death and Life of Great American Cities". Jacobs is considered one of the country's most influential urban planning activists and was a critical part of the development of Boston.

David R. Godine, Publisher published Genius of Common Sense: Jane Jacobs and the Story of the Death and Life of Great American Cities in 2009 and one of the book's co-authors, Glenna Lang, will be participating in the panel along with former Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis and architect David Lee.

The Dorchester Reporter offers more information on the event:

The program is free and open to the public and takes place in Peabody Hall at All Saints Church, 209 Ashmont St., Dorchester (near the corner of Dorchester Ave., next to Ashmont Station) on Friday, Nov. 11 at 7:30 p.m. Doors open at 7. There is ample free parking in the church parking lot.

Jacobs, who died in 2006, influenced a generation of urban planners in Boston. As the Boston Globe wrote in her obituary, “activists drew inspiration from her insights as they fought to spare Boston and Cambridge from the Inner Belt and the Southwest Expressway.” She is also credited for the concept behind the creation of Quincy Market here in Boston and wrote with high praise of Boston’s North End and its density, calling it “the healthiest neighborhood in the city.” The publication of her book probably saved the North End from the fate of Boston’s West End. Many of the city’s planners and developers are greatly influenced by Jacobs’ thinking, and this influence can be seen throughout Dorchester and the rest of the city.

Superior Person's Tuesday!

Nuncheon n A noon drink. "I'll just leave the accounts till this afternoon if you don't mind, Miles; I find that I'm running late for a nuncheon appointment."

A nuncheon with luncheon

Good reason for a nuncheon

Each Tuesday, we’ll offer up a Superior Word for the edification of our Superior Readers, via the volumes of the inimitable Peter Bowler. You can purchase all or any of the four Superior Person’s Books of Words from the Godine website. Nuncheon appears in the Second.

Friday, November 4, 2011

"Alternative Literature"

Here's a comic courtesy of xkcd ("A Webcomic of Romance, Sarcasm, Math and Language") for you this beautiful Friday afternoon:

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Superior Person's Tuesday!

You know it's the beginning of the holiday season when Starbucks's red cups are everywhere and eggnog seems to be in everything . . .

Polyphagia n Excessive eating. "Ah, yuletide blessed season of joy! The Christmas tree, the decorations, the gifts, the carols, the sleigh bells, the polyphagia . . . "

Each Tuesday, we’ll offer up a Superior Word for the edification of our Superior Readers, via the volumes of the inimitable Peter Bowler. You can purchase all or any of the four Superior Person’s Books of Words from the Godine website. Polyphagia appears in the Second.